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1962_04_28--034_SP Czar of Bunny World

38 18,000 are Chicagoans. The rest are conventioneers, out-of-town salesmen, middle-aged roisterers whooping it up in the big city. During acts by the entertainers they talk to one another, shout banalities and direct wolf calls at the bunnies. As a result, Hefner is in danger of losing the young men to whom he made his first appeal. One youthful Playboy aficionado told me, "I used to go to the club, but now I feel out of place, like I'm at a meeting of World War I veterans." A second problem for Hefner is management of the bunnies. The applicants are carefully screened, and even though they are working mostly for tips (which can total $350 a week and upward), they are made to feel that they are in show business. They get dressing rooms and wardrobe mistresses, even hairdressers to prescribe the best coiffures for the wearing of rabbit ears. They have a bunny mother to supervise them and they are forbidden to date the patrons. Hefner has hired a detective service to circulate its operatives incognito in the clubs to attempt to entice the bunnies into extracurricular activities. "One scandal," a Hefner associate told me, "and the puritans will try to close us down." So far there have been no bunny scandals, although Hefner had a close call with a young lady named Constance Petrie whose death was attributed to an overdose of acute ethyl alcohol, according to the coroner's report. The man with whom she was living told police that she came in drunk at 5:30 A.M. He slapped her, and she went out for a walk. When she returned at 7:30 A.m., she went to bed where she was found dead by her lover at 10:30 A.M. When questioned by the police, the bunny's bedmate said Connie had been fired from her Playboy Club job two days earlier because she refused to take a lie detector test when the club management suspected her of taking marijuana and soliciting for prostitution. On the whole, I found most bunnies to be vacuous maidens cut out of the same mold, with billowy hairdos, heavy eye make-up, large busts and derrieres, a consuming passion for the large sums of money they are earning and a bovine acceptance of their off-duty roles as companions for Hefner and his executives. Another possible difficulty for Hefner is a growing revulsion among womankind— and among some non-puritan males too—against the entire Playboy concept. A Chicago newspaperwoman told me, "I like Hef, but I resent his philosophy that a woman is merely a decoration. In the Playboy world, a female goes into the discard when she is not the show-girl type, when she has a bust of less than thirty-eight inches, when she reaches the age of twenty-five, and when she exhibits any intelligence." One bunny recently had the temerity to express more or less the same thoughts on the PM East television show, saying, "I don't really like the picture of the female being only an accessory of a man." She was summarily fired. I questioned Victor Lownes III, a chief Hefner lieutenant, about this heresy. He said, "I guess we do express an antifeminist point of view, and we might be somewhat in error in not giving the exceptional woman full credit. But we firmly believe that women are not equal to men." Despite everything, the Bunny Empire continues to flourish and Hefner continues to play the role of high-incomebracket urbanity. He employs all the trappings—a Mercedes-Benz sports car, a limousine with two telephones in it, a seven-foot-square bed, polar-bear rugs and priceless modern art in his $400,000 mansion, mountains of food and rivers of booze for his guests. He bought the mansion two years ago and it has been the best prop in the perpetuation of his legend. A massive fivestory Victorian structure in the heart of Chicago's ultrafashionable Gold Coast on the Near North Side, it was built in 1899 by a millionaire named Henry P. Isham. Its great hall is three stories high and has the dimensions of a basketball court. In the basement Hefner has installed a luxurious swimming pool with a waterfall, behind which is what he calls The Woo Grotto for swimmers who want to be alone with their bunnies, or playmates. The mansion is decorated in a nouveau riche mishmash of Renaissance and contemporary furnishings, but the place has become a sort of museum for the curious. Hefner allows organizations to conduct paid tours for charity. Except for the pervasive odor of chlorine from the swimming pool, the total effect is that of a love temple in the last days of ancient Rome, as Cecil B. De Mille might have conceived it. Hefner himself lives in an apartment off the great hall. On the upper two floors there are small apartments, most of which are conveniently inhabited by bunnies and playmates. Another part of his legend is the Hefner Friday Night Party. These proceedings begin at one A.M. in the mansion and last until forenoon of the next day. He invites all the bunnies and playmates, the casts of stage plays then in Chicago, plus every celebrity in town. There are dancing, food, drink, swimming and general revelry, with Hefner striding about among his guests, pipe self-consciously in mouth like the Great Gatsby incarnate. Hefner's neighbors have united into an organization to combat these allegedly wicked revels, and they summon the police regularly— which is exactly what Hefner wants them to do, to foster his myth. I heard all kinds of hair-raising stories about the debauchery that goes on at the Hefner Friday Nights, but I was unable to observe any myself and I could not run down any eyewitnesses to specific instances of sin. Actually the parties are pretentious and dull. As Chicago Sun- Times columnist Iry Kupcinet remarked to me, "What is it? A lot of bored people who have nothing in common, dancing, and drinking and sitting around trying to make conversation, just so they can brag the next day that they were there." Hefner works at his legend eighteen hours a day. He rises about one P.M., goes to his office to berate and guide his Playboy staff, and generally spends his evenings escorting celebrities around his Chicago Playboy Club. He never takes a vacation and he once complained to a friend that "those restrictive walls are up for me again." The friend says, "I guess the walls don't go down for Hef until about two or three A.M. on a weekday morning. Then when all the friends, guests and bunnies are gone, he drives to his Playboy office building and sits at his desk—working and dictating memos and planning. He wanders around the empty building alone, looking at papers and layouts on desks and checking on the work that everyone has done during the day. He told me that he sometimes catches himself saying aloud, 'All this is mine. All this is mine.' I have a feeling that when he's all alone, there in the stillness of the night, that's when he's the happiest." THE END "The total effect is that of a love temple in the last days of ancient Rome, as Cecil B. De Mille might have conceived it." Hefner's mansion on Chicago's Near North Side is outfitted with a kidney shaped pool, complete with inviting nook called the Woo Grotto.


1962_04_28--034_SP Czar of Bunny World
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